When I was five years old in 1954, the Chordettes recorded Mr. Sandman and the song remained in first position on the song billboard for seven weeks during that year.
When I was 10, I auditioned for a talent show at Camp Little Flower in Kansas City, singing the Chordettes version of Mr. Sandman. Two of us auditioned, and I came in second. I wasn’t deterred.
When I was 15, I signed up for the high school choir at Bishop Hogan High School in Kansas City. When choir director, Sister Madaleva, a big nun that we secretly labeled the “black veiled monster” heard my voice, she screamed, “you’re flat.” Knowing that she wasn’t referring to my chest size, I wondered if the condition was terminal. I discovered that indeed “being flat” was fatal when she threatened to fail me with an “F” if I sang or pass me with a “C” if I mouthed the words. I mouthed the words.
At the high school reunion 40 years later, I discovered that my friend, Debbie and my brother, Tom, also had a similar experience with Sister Madaleva. None of us wanted to fail, so we succumbed to her threats.
While Sister Madaleva silenced me for many years, she didn’t silence me forever. Over the years despite being quiet with a flat voice, I morphed into a successful person.
When I was 50, I discovered that I had stage fight when playing the accordion in front of an audience. Being the can-do person that I always was, I was determined to find a solution. I googled “stage fright” and discovered at the top of the list was the Showoffs Studio for Performers in Toronto, Ontario Canada. I can do this, I thought, and signed up.
Art Nefsky, the director of the studio, didn’t care if we could sing or not. He was determined to help us find our voices and overcome stage fright through singing. Before the weekend workshop, each of us was required to learn the lyrics to the song of our choice and bring the karaoke version of the CD to the workshop. I chose Dinah Washington’s sultry version of What a Difference a Day Made.
(Note: Some of the Showoff Exercises are included at the end of this story. You can also read about my experience at the weekend workshop at What a Difference a Weekend Made.)
Now that I’m 60 and with Parkinson’s Disease for nearly 15 years, I am the same determined person that I’ve always been. I’ve recently been working on my Parkinson’s voice with voice coach, Mary Spremulli. As a speech and language pathologist for 25 years, Mary has helped many of us quieted by Parkinson’s disease rediscover our voices through a program she created called Voice Aerobics™. This program combines voice therapy with exercise physiology. In addition, Mary has recently combined voice exercises with singing in her efforts to empower those of us with Parkinson’s and other neurological disorders, develop our best possible voice and speech.
Other educational articles can be found on Mary's blog at: https://voiceaerobicsdvd.blogspot.com/
Since singing at Camp Little Flower, I have come full circle. Yesterday I discovered the same Chordettes version of Mr. Sandman in my CD collection. I belted out the song just as I done as a child 50 years ago.
I was silenced once but not forever.
Some of the Exercises from Art Nefsky’s Showoffs Studio for Performers Weekend Workshop -- May 2000, Toronto, Ontario
All exercises were done while singing the song each of us brought to workshop
1. Eye contact with audience—10-15 seconds/per person
2. Copy cat—While singing someone in audience would do something (such as wave), and you should mimic the behavior
3. Got-ya—tap person after you made him/her laugh
4. Play politician—shake hands, “vote for me”
5. Make eye contact; make comment about person (e.g., “I notice your necklace”), etc.
6. Sing like conceited bitch with gas; act flirtatiously toward male class member; sit on his lap
7. Sing like a flirt
8. Sing like an opera singer who is farting
9. Sing off-key (like Roseanne Barr sang “The National Anthem”)
10. Sing like a kindergarten teacher who is condescending
11. Pretend you are at your high school reunion; sing like a superstar; recognize classmates in audience
12. Sing like a obnoxious, drunk superstar
13. Sing like a mellow, drunk superstar
14. Sing fairy stories, lullabies to a child
15. Sing to a one year old who was celebrating his first birthday; maintain his attention throughout the entire song.
16. Sing song in fake language (e.g., gibberish)
17. Sing song alternating between fake language (e.g., gibberish) and English
18. Sing while alternating between multiple personalities
19. While singing, Art would throw out different adjectives (e.g., confident, condescending) and singing style should change accordingly
20. Sing rotating one arm throughout the entire song
21. Sing while lying on the floor
22.Sing while Art was the conductor of your song